Rehabbing history

A hidden, historic and hard-lived home in Linden Hills is for sale. The owners are looking for a buyer willing to restore it.

LINDEN HILLS — Passersby need to look hard to find 4106 Vincent Ave. S.

Regular neighborhood visitors, local real estate agents, even area residents might raise an eyebrow trying to place the address. But it’s there, tucked behind another home and shielded by trees, sitting off the grid, high on a hill — the tallest hill in all of Linden Hills, in fact.

“It’s always seemed kind of mysterious being up there on the hill and the driveway going up there is quite long,” said nearby resident Susan Tapp. “I just have always thought it was a really good looking house, but kind of mysterious. Nobody seems to know a whole lot about it.”

Much of the mystery was cleared up this month at an open house for the century-old home, which the owners are trying to sell to someone interested in giving it a much needed restoration. Vienna-schooled architects John Jager and Carl Stravs designed the home in 1908 for stained-glass artist Robert Tait Giles and his wife, Isabella. Its “Vienna Secession” style — a departure from the history-influenced architecture of the day — is a rarity in the metro area.  

“You can count the truly Vienna Secession buildings in the Twin Cities on the fingers of one hand,” said architectural historian Richard Kronick, who gave a presentation on the Vincent Avenue home’s history at the open house. “It’s just very rare. There isn’t very much of that style in this area for obvious reasons, it was not very well known and a foreign idea.”

But the house’s provenance might not save it. It is not registered as a historic property and if sold to someone unwilling to put in the time or money to bring it back to its former glory, it could end up demolished.

At just under $500,000, the asking price of the five-bedroom, three-bathroom, 5,064-square-foot home in the heart of one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods is reflective of its condition. Weathered and chipped paint, cracked concrete, torn and faded carpet and the deterioration of one-off artistic features including a bedazzled stone and glass fireplace will make rehabbing the home a challenge.

Cheryl Maloney, 59, whose family has owned the house for more than 50 years, said she has fond memories of the home in its better days.   

 “I’m the oldest of six kids. We grew up in this home. We all took our turn at painting and renovating and at one time it was a showcase,” she said. “But as the kids grow up, some go their own way — I spent 10 years in California — and my parents as they aged developed some health challenges that prevented them from keeping things up, so now the house is kind of in disrepair.”

Maloney said the decision to sell the property was a difficult one that came after her late mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The family, which had begun repairing the house, got derailed “and one thing led to another and it just got so complicated,” Maloney said. “And meanwhile, who pays the bills?”

A conservator is currently overseeing the marketing of the property. Maloney said a couple of potential buyers have surfaced, but no deal has been made yet. She said she was blown away by the strong community interest at the open house, which drew roughly 200 people.

“That speaks to the great hunger and appreciation our community here has for historic properties such as this home,” she said.

When new, the house was touted as a fireproof residence because of its thick poured-concrete construction. It also features unusual exterior window sills made of blue brick, a large curving back wall of smooth boulders and “Art Nouveau” details, such as small animal carvings in the walls and trapezoidal glass in the front door.

Aside from the bedrooms and bathrooms, it has a spacious living room, a tiny kitchen adjacent to a formal dining room, a solarium, an entertainment room, a screened porch, a shop and other unfinished rooms in the basement. Though it has gradually deteriorated, the home has avoided major changes and additions, preserving its original design.  

“It’s really is a one-of-a-kind thing,” said architectural historian Larry Millett, who included the house in his book, “AIA Guide to the Minneapolis Lake District,” which noted that the architects were also influenced by the Prairie School work of architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. “And it’s a lovely house. It’s had a hard use and it’s certainly going to require a substantial investment.”

Exactly how much of an investment is unknown, but Maloney estimated the house would be worth well over $1 million in like-new condition.

To help ensure the home’s protection, Maloney recently met with Jack Byers, planning manager for the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department’s Preservation and Design Team. The goal was to make the property a registered historic site, but the process takes months and whoever buys the home might not want to go through with it.

But, Byers said, the city automatically does a preservation review of all properties slated for demolition. So, if a permit to raze the home was requested and city staff found the home to be eligible for a historic designation, the applicant would have to get approval for the demolition from the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission. To get the OK, the homeowner would have to show the commission that there are no feasible or economical alternatives to razing the lot, Byers said.

He said he thinks the best option is to find a buyer who won’t go that route. Maloney agrees.

“We are just really praying that the ultimate buyer will be someone who values this property and will see the benefit in restoring it and take pride in that ownership,” she said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]